[Member Spotlight] Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC)

This member spotlight features an interview with @RuthKihiu of the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) in Tanzania. PWC has been doing legal empowerment work since 1997. Their Rights & Leadership Programme helps whole communities understand their legal and human rights and supports women to defend them.

What is your organization’s mission?

PWC seeks to address women’s marginalisation in patriarchal Maasai and Sonjo culture and to enhance their quality of life, as well as to address the poverty pastoralists and agro-pastoralists face by encouraging them to become self-reliant and to take control over their own development. Our mission is to promote the cultural, environmental, economic and educational development of pastoralist women and children to facilitate their access to essential social services and economic empowerment. We are guided by four principles of solidarity, equality, trust and transparency.

What kind of issues does your legal empowerment work address?

Many modern legal and human rights remain unrecognized in Maasai patriarchal society leaving Maasai women particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged as they face multiple forms of discrimination, both because of their minority and gender identity. Maasai women live on the fringes of society, stigmatized by those who live in the towns as being backward, ignorant and dirty. They have no place in their own community, and are oppressed through various cultural practices, including forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Due to Maasai patriarchal practices regarding ownership of property, many women are chased off their land and left without livestock when they get divorced or their husband passes away.

How are you using legal empowerment to address the problems?

We believe that the most effective way to guarantee that women are protected and that their rights are recognized is to empower them to speak up for themselves and find sustainable solutions genuine to their community. When women are equipped with the knowledge and effective skills to claim their rights they are better able to diminish harmful and discriminating practices. Therefore, PWC’s primary agent for supporting women’s human rights and achieving gender equality is our Women’s Rights and Leadership Forums (WRLFs). These forums aim to defend women’s rights, provide education, strengthen women’s representation in leadership and public participation, prevent instances of gender-based violence and forced marriage, and resolve gender disparity and rights violations relating to ownership of land and property. By bringing trained paralegals and different community members together, PWC has provided a safe environment for discussion, allowing women to reflect on the positive and negative aspects of their culture, to share experiences, skills and knowledge, and to mobilize resources leading to sustainable changes and long term collaboration. As a result, girls have escaped forced marriage and graduated from universities; women have gained confidence and knowledge in different areas and received tangible financial support through credit schemes.

The Rights and Leadership Programme has had positive outcomes for many beneficiaries. PWC supported the work of 240 WRLF members and 10 village councils in Ngorongoro District in 2016 by training them on property and land rights, case reporting and court procedures. Following this, 160 women were able to secure plots of land from their village governments. An additional 70 village and traditional leaders in Longido District were also trained on gender rights. Additionally, 27 cases of domestic violence were reported to local authorities and were successfully resolved with 7 cases being taken to court. Of those, women were granted their rights in 5 cases with 2 cases still pending. Moreover, 29 girls returned to school after being rescued from early marriages. In March 2017, PWC carried out a three day refresher training for 30 paralegals from Mondorosi, Sukenya and Soitsambu villages. The training covered paralegals, land rights, children’s rights and protection, the court system in Tanzania, and case reporting to police and monitoring systems. On a regional level, PWC was able to share its knowledge of capacity building with other women-led civil society organisations at a regional network meeting held in Kampala, Uganda in November 2016.

Besides the above mentioned successes in the area of Women’s Rights and Leadership, PWC also focuses heavily on enhancing girls’ access to education through providing a safe learning environment and empowering girls to perform well in schools. As such, there has been a 77 percent increase in the number of girls attending school in Ngorongoro and Loliondo divisions. In 2016, 57 percent of students attending the PWC-managed school Emanyata were girls, making it unique among secondary schools in the district. Furthermore, in response to the improvements made by PWC, Emanyata has been the top performing secondary school in the district for three consecutive years. As PWC encourages and enables continued education for girls through secondary school scholarships, 88 percent of supported girls reported that they now feel less pressured to marry before turning 16 years old. Another milestone is our girl’s rescue centre in Loliondo, which provides safe accommodation and educational support for at-risk girls, particularly aged 13-25, who are vulnerable to gender-based violence such as forced and early marriage. Support programmes within the centre encourage and enable the girls to continue schooling and provide employment preparation to enable their independence.

Community centered and led initiatives are most effective in transforming and empowering communities. Training local paralegals (both men and women) has meant that the community can easily access legal advice at all times and inexpensively. Linking the paralegals with government agents such as gender desk officers, magistrates and district officials has also proven to be very effective in addressing cases (especially women’s rights related cases) emanating from the community. Apart from giving legal advice, paralegals have also been instrumental in sensitizing the community on rights and development issues. To illustrate, in Ngorongoro District, the paralegals continue to sensitize communities on land rights and mobilize them to push back on government plans to evict them from their ancestral land and homes.

Innovation- Is there an aspect of your legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?

PWC’s legal empowerment work is unique in the way that it tackles four important and intertwined gender related issues: land and inheritance rights, domestic violence, forced marriage, and women in leadership positions. As part of this strategy, PWC’s most innovative approach to empower Maasai women and girls is its focus on increasing women’s representation in traditional and local government leadership structures. In a patriarchal culture like theirs, women remain under-represented within their local communities and decision-making bodies. Therefore, the ability of women to influence public decision making in Maasai communities has been limited as women could not attend or speak at community meetings. In this regard, the Women Leadership Forums are of key importance to make social and political participation at the all levels available to all women. There are important innovations and strategies that are contributing to the achievements of WRLFs. For example, WRLFs are working with both customary and statutory leadership and governance institutions. Through this engagement, they are supporting locally appropriate harmonization of customary and statutory rights, and universal human rights, in ways that strengthen women’s rights and the collective rights of the pastoralist system. At the same time, WRLFs are not formal governance institutions. Rather, WRLFs provide a dedicated, parallel space solely for women. In this space, women are able to demonstrate their courage and capabilities to respond to pressing threats to individuals’ and community land. WRLFs are becoming their own ‘customary’ institutions, rather than trying to be formally embedded within existing bodies. In areas where WRLFs are active, women are speaking in public and have strategically increased their influence in their communities by obtaining seats in village government councils and by collaborating with the customary leadership. As such, following the establishment of the first ever Women CBO in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in 2014, PWC has worked to strengthen the organisation through leadership training on roles and responsibilities, the formation of working committees, and development of a Strategic Plan. PWC’s ongoing progress with women’s development in Ngorongoro is illustrated by an increase in the number of Maasai women elected to the Ngorongoro District Council in 2015. A unique and outstanding outcome of this empowerment process is the fact that now, female and male paralegals work alongside each other to address cases of rights violations in their communities. This helps women and men in the community understand women’s importance and accept their new roles and powers and leads to an indication of gradual transformation of gender relations within their pastoralist communities. Community members have reported that relationships between men and women have grown stronger as they become more equal and can share experiences of political participation and small scale businesses. Another very important factor is the tireless and enduring effort of our paralegals who, despite major opposition by the government, continue to sensitise and mobilise Maasai communities in order to avoid eviction from their ancestral land and homes in Ngorongoro District.

What are the strategies you employ to ensure the long-term sustainability of your work?

Our strategy has been to make the best use of community volunteers in different PWC programmes. The paralegals component has been extremely important in advancing advocacy at the village and district levels. PWC as a community based NGO is devoted to steadily increase the number paralegals in the three districts we are currency working in and replicate this model. As PWC enables participants to share skills, knowledge and resources they become their own experts on women’s and land rights as well as advocate for them. Furthermore, the women leadership forums (WRLF) are the key leaders trained on women rights, leadership and land rights. There are over 20 forums in the area working together with PWC and all are devoted to transform traditional norms that discriminate women. Through these forums we were able to nurture women leaders in the community, increase their general presence and influence in public decision making procedures and enhancing recognition and acceptance of women’s rights among local leaders. As WRLFs are developing over time, allowing women to emerge as leaders, to develop their agenda and demonstrate their capabilities, and allowing women and men to accept changing norms, fundamental changes within their societal structures are visible and sustainable. Finally, PWC is working closely with other like minded partners and networks to promote our work and make it sustainable by sharing resources, knowledge and experiences an

Do you have any advice for other organizations about achieving scale?

PWC has been working closely with international, national and local community women. In particular, one of our strategy approaches is to expand our work is across all pastoralist areas in five years ahead, training a larger paralegal pool of women and men in both secondary and university studies. This is a key component that will enable Maasai women to reach wider areas and serving different institutions in Tanzania and beyond. The PWC managed secondary school in Emanyata has already hosted up to 400 Maasai students who are committed to use their skills and knowledge to pass on to their communities. Placing our graduates in different government institutions and other like minded NGOs has been is another essential step to strengthen Maasai women’s presence throughout the country. We are organizing study tours, designing specific tale made training’s, and invite speaker in various forums to share our experiences about our work and success. Finally, documentation, monitoring and evaluation of our impact also play a key role of improving PWCs strategies.

You can learn more about the work of the Pastoral Women’s Council by watching their 20 year anniversary video

If you have questions or thoughts to share about this member’s work, please share them below

Member Spotlights are short profile articles focusing on members of the Global Legal Empowerment Network. Spotlight articles use case studies to provide useful insights into the work of other network members. Whether you are working in the same country, with similar issues or want to understand new legal empowerment approaches, the Member Spotlight is a useful learning resource. You can read about organizations in our network here (https://community.namati.org/tags/spotlights)


How likely are you to recommend the Global Legal Empowerment Network?

Thank you. What can we do better?

Thank you. What can be improved?

Fabulous! What do you like most?

Thanks for giving feedback! If you’re reporting a problem, please tell us what you were doing when the problem occurred, what you expected to happen and what actually happened.


skip this step